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Biographical entry Harkness, Arthur Herbert (1889 - 1970)

MRCS 1914; FRCS 1951; LRCP 1914.

Pietermaritzburg, Natal
12 November 1970


Arthur Harkness was the son of a saddler and he was born in Pietermaritzburg, Natal. In South Africa he had a moderate academic career, but was a superb cricketer and in rugby football he played for Natal, being nearly as good as his brother who eventually played for the Springboks.

After qualification at Guy's Hospital in 1914 he joined the Royal Naval Reserve and served as a Surgeon-Lieutenant during the Gallipoli campaign and afterwards in submarines and on the famous 'Q' boats. When he returned to England he was put in charge of thousands of sailors suffering from venereal disease and this post decided his future career.

When he left the Navy he proceeded to take appointments at St Peters, St Charles and the London Skin Hospital and there he made the study of syphilis and dermatology his chief interests. Harkness in time built up a large private practice and patients from all over the world passed through his hands. His work was of great value and he stood high in the opinion of members of his specialty having served as President and member of the Council of the Medical Society for the Study of Venereal Diseases. Harkness's chief work was on non-gonococcal urethritis which he established as a clinical entity and his book on this subject published in 1950 became so important that it was recognised by the College of Surgeons who awarded him a Fellowship the following year.

Despite his long life Harkness constantly endured ill health, suffering from both typhoid fever and bilharzia. From 1917 onwards he also suffered from a duodenal ulcer for many years which plagued him with multiple bleedings and four perforations; he was finally cured by a partial gastrectomy.

Harkness married and his wife pre-deceased him, but he was survived by his sister who at the time of his death lived in Durban. He died quietly at his home in Wimpole Street on 12 November 1970 at the age of 81.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1970, 4, 562].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England